Neapolitan music, or Canzone Napoletana as it is often referred to in Italian, is a traditional form of music.
This style of music is quite simple, although it is highly captivating to the audience.
Now, the Neapolitan style has evolved drastically over the years. The sound is very hard to define nowadays. Traditionally though, this style of music involved a male vocalist harmonizing over a guitar or mandolin line, the likes of which were actually complex.
The style of music has evolved drastically over the years. For example, many women are now starting to get involved in Neapolitan Music and the backing music has become much more more complex. In fact, many artists are veering away from just using a traditional guitar or mandolin in their music. They are opting for large bands which help to capture the Italian sound a great deal better.
For now, let’s just assume that any music which is sung in traditional Neapolitan language can be regarded as this style of music. That is how I perform mine.
Up until the late half of the 1800s, Neapolitan music was pretty much unheard of outside of Italy. However, as Italians from southern Italy started to spread around the world, their music did too. Italians started to perform wherever they lived. Perhaps one of the most famous of these being Enrico Caruso.
At heart, Enrico Caruso was an Opera singer. Most of the time he was sharing some brilliant opera songs within New York, the city that he emigrated to. However, this was a man that was keen to share his culture with the world. As a result, he started to throw a couple of Neapolitan songs into the mix. When he performed these songs he took the stage by storm. He achieved great critical acclaim as a result and he started to achieve bookings all over the country. In fact, such was his fame at the time, he was actually the first person in history to sell over one million copies of a single sound recording.
This sound recording came in the form of Vesti la Giubba. This was a sound recording from the opera Pagliacci, of course, sung in the Neapolitan language. Many people think of Enrico Caruso as the ‘grandfather’ of Neapolitan Music. Sure, he did not invent it. He just brought it to worldwide acclaim. In fact, it is him that is responsible for opera singers starting to learn traditional Neapolitan Music in order to please their crowds.
The Three Tenors probably being one of the biggest names here. Most of the Opera music that you hear nowadays from Tenors is not true opera music. It is Neapolitan Music which has been born from Opera.
Sadly, after moving back to Italy, Enrico Caruso did not have the best of lives. In fact, he became ill and died shortly after. However, his legacy was complete. He had completely changed the face of Italian music, and I am sure that he was happy with that until the very end. The legacy of Enrico Caruso was captured in the 1986 song, Caruso by Lucio Dalla. This song was very loosely based on the great man.
A couple of decades after the death of Enrico Caruso, Neapolitan Music was still going strong around the globe. Opera singers were performing to packed houses almost every single night. The musical style really showed no sign of waning. However, it certainly could do with being a bit stronger. Enter Domenico Modugno. He was an Italian artist who entered the Eurovision Song Contest (back when the contest was actually respectable). His entry was Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare). This song came third. Back then this was hardly a respectable position when there were only ten entrants. However, nobody expected what came next. This song, released in 1958, is one of the most popular Eurovision songs of all time. There have been a number of versions of this song released all over the globe. Artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Cliff Richard, David Bowie, Luciano Pavarotti, and Louis Armstrong have covered this song. The combined versions sold is around 22 million. This is not too shabby for a song which was based on what was a very niche style of music just a few years prior.
This finally brings me onto the discussion of the final song that I feel really helps to showcase what Italian music is all about. This is probably one of the most popular Neapolitan songs of all time. Say hello to Torna a Surriento, a song which has been performed by hundreds of different artists (including Enrico Caruso). It was written way back in 1902 by Ernesto De Curtis. You will be hard-pressed to find a Neapolitan performance which does not showcase this song nowadays. Perhaps one of the most popular versions of this song was performed on an almost consistent basis by Luciano Pavarotti, although Meat Loaf and Dean Martin produced a version which is just as popular. The song, Surrender, by Elvis Presley, is based upon this traditional Italian song, although the lyrics have not been directly translated.
If you truly want to experience a journey through Italian music history, particularly Neapolitan music, then I do urge you to check out the album that I have just released. As a touring artist I do believe that this is one of my best works yet. I really have tried to capture the musical sound of Italy. This means that you are going to hear the Neapolitan genre being performed in the language it is supposed to be performed in. This is backed up my guitar and mandolin playing. Many of the songs that I have mentioned here can be found in all of their glory on Via Italia.
Have a listen to this track from the album:- Chitarra Romana – Via Italia
Or get the whole album here:- Via Italia – Robert Michaels